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Chief Justice Stays Maryland DNA Collection Decision

By Robyn Hagan Cain on July 31, 2012 4:02 PM

Get ready for a Supreme Court DNA case in the 2012 Term.

Chief Justice John Roberts issued an order on Monday indicating that it's likely the Court will grant certiorari to review a DNA collection law.

The Maryland DNA Collection Act authorizes law enforcement officials to collect DNA samples from individuals charged with but not yet convicted of certain crimes, mainly violent crimes and first-degree burglary.

In 2009, police arrested Alonzo Jay King, Jr., for first-degree assault. When personnel at the booking facility collected his DNA, they found it matched DNA evidence from a rape committed in 2003. Relying on the match, the state charged and successfully convicted King of first-degree rape.

A Maryland Court of Appeals overturned King's conviction, holding that the DNA collection violated the Fourth Amendment because his expectation of privacy outweighed the state's interests. Monday, Chief Justice Roberts stayed that opinion, based on the "fair prospect" that the Supreme Court will grant certiorari in the case, CNN reports.

In his four-page order, the Chief Justice wrote, "Collecting DNA from individuals arrested for violent felonies provides a valuable tool for investigating unsolved crimes and thereby helping to remove violent offenders from the general population. Crimes for which DNA evidence is implicated tend to be serious, and serious crimes cause serious injuries. That Maryland may not employ a duly-enacted statute to help prevent these injuries constitutes irreparable harm."

A Supreme Court review of Maryland's DNA Collection Act could potentially impact California as well. In February, a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel upheld a provision of California's DNA and Forensic Identification Data Base and Data Bank Act (DNA Act), which requires law enforcement officers to collect DNA samples from all adults arrested for felonies. Last week, the Ninth Circuit agreed to re-examine the matter en banc.

Before the writs and briefs start pouring in, how do you think the Nine will rule? Does a state cross a line when collecting a suspect's DNA upon arrest, or is DNA nothing more than a fancy fingerprint?

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